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Majority of Kansas schools still teach cursive, survey finds

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, at 9:32 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, at 11:51 a.m.

A majority of Kansas school districts that responded to a survey about cursive writing said they still teach it and consider it an important skill, a state official told the Kansas Board of Education this week.

The findings “mirror national statistics for the most part,” said Tom Foster, director of research and evaluation for the Kansas Department of Education, during a presentation to board members.

The board explored the topic this week during its regular monthly meeting in Topeka, after several board members asked for information on whether and how handwriting is taught in Kansas schools.

Foster’s staff recently sent a six-question survey to all 286 Kansas school districts; 184 districts responded, he said.

Of the districts that responded, 90 percent said they teach cursive handwriting. Most said they teach it in third grade and spend an average of five to 15 minutes a day on handwriting lessons, Foster said.

Asked about their long-term plans for cursive handwriting instruction, more than 94 percent of districts that responded – including those who don’t teach handwriting – said they don’t plan to change their policies. About 6 percent “indicated a planned or probable decrease in time spent on cursive,” Foster said.

Board members discussed the findings and several expressed support for schools continuing cursive instruction, but they did not take official action. They asked Foster to return in December with recommendations on whether the state should establish guidelines for handwriting instruction.

Currently the state does not set standards for handwriting or require that it be taught in Kansas classrooms.

“Anecdotally, I think we could all find there is a pretty widespread concern about this, when we have middle school kids and young adults who can’t sign their name legibly,” said board member Ken Willard of Hutchinson.

Board members shared stories of people who couldn’t read or write cursive or ones who print their names on documents instead of signing in cursive.

Janet Waugh, of Kansas City, Kan., said comments from concerned parents, grandparents and employers prompted her to ask for more information.

“I know there are superintendents who feel that cursive is kind of losing priority due to technology, and I understand that,” Waugh said. “But there are times when we do write. … I still feel it needs to be taught.”

Foster said waning cursive skills among teens and young adults likely happens because students don’t use cursive much after elementary school. In middle and high schools, many teachers require papers to be typed rather than handwritten, he said.

“Most of us would probably be unable to write a capital (cursive) ‘Q,’ ” Foster told board members. “It’s just a matter of, we don’t practice that skill anymore.”

Board member Walt Chappell of Wichita said a decline in handwriting is “indicative of a much larger issue.” Teachers spend less time on handwriting because they are spending much more time on reading and math, the focus of federally mandated tests, Chappell said.

“We know that a lot of our kids aren’t able to write well now, and we’re asking ourselves, ‘Should we teach it anymore?’ ” he said. “Heck yes, we should. That is a basic skill that everybody needs to know.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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